Since 1953 the Thunderbirds have been the premier Air Demonstration team for the United States Air Force. Flying a range of different aircraft from F-84s to F-105s to the current F16, whatever the Air Force flew, so did the Thunderbirds.
Based at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, the Thunderbirds spend their time here practicing and training. Nellis is also where you will find the Thunderbird Museum, which I got to check out during a recent trip to Vegas.
When they are not training they will be on the road, wowing crowds from one side of the country to the other.
The Museum is open Year round from Monday to Friday, but it’s inside the base perimeter, so that means you would need a reason to be on the base to see it. However for one weekend a year they open it to the public as part of the Aviation Nation Airshow.
The Airshow also marks the closing of the Thunderbirds season as it is the last tour stop of the year.
The Museum is home to not only a full size F-16 Gate Guard (in full Thunderbird paint scheme) but it is also home to a number of artifacts and memorabilia that have been presented to the Thunderbirds as they toured the world. Helmets, caps, scarves, patches, you name it, they have it and all on display showcasing all the people and places they have visited.
The first area that will attract your attention is the VIP room where a list of current, former and honorary member names cover the wall. It’s where VIPs will visit and meet with the crew & staff at the hangar.
The area has warm wood paneling, statues and memorabilia appropriate to this boardroom feeling, but the thing that dominates is the mural that covers the wall. It depicts all of the aircraft that the Thunderbirds have flown flying in formation. A truly wondrous depiction — if only it were a real photograph.
The second area is the briefing room/theater. During the museum opening hours a short 10 minute video on the Thunderbirds is played for visitors and they can soak in the atmosphere while they enjoy it.
Covering the walls in the theater are heaps of original art work, all painted by former or current members of the Thunderbirds staff and crew.
If you ever get the chance to come visit Aviation Nation or Nellis Air Force Base, a visit to the Thunderbirds Hangar is a must. I know that I enjoyed my time there. Next task, to get a ride on one of the F-16s.
|This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent.
Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.